Grand Palace, Bangkok
The tour of Bangkok's Grand Palace and the sight of the Holy of Holies within - the Jade Buddha (also known as the Emerald Buddha) in Wat Phra Kaeo - are among the highlights of any visit to Thailand. Each of the buildings making up the 21.84-ha (54-acre) palace complex evinces not only the ethos of a period but, above all, the spirit of the monarch ruling at the time.
Opening hours: 8:30am-3:30pm
Entrance fee in THB: Adult 100.00
Useful tips: Admission charge. Proper dress is required.
Grand Palace Highlights
Wat Phra Kaeo / Temple of the Emerald Buddha
The sacred inner precinct, in the middle of which stands the Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), is reached by a gate which is guarded over by two imposing demon figures. These, the gift of Chinese merchants, strike a discordant note and hardly match the graceful style of the typical Thai architecture to be found in the rest of the temple complex. Once inside, beside the gate, the first of a cycle of murals recounting the epic of "Ramakien" can be seen painted on the precinct wall. A commentary in verses composed by King Chulalonghorn (Rama V) is inscribed on a series of marble plaques nearby.Turning to the left, the visitor can now see the gold-tiled chedi, Phra Si Ratana, which rises up from a circular base on five levels. Inside it contains a relic which, according to tradition, is a bone or hair of the enlightened Buddha. The needle-shaped spire of the chedi is typical of the way the Thais developed the style of the Indian pagoda.
Behind Phra Sri Ratana is the Phra Mondhop, a building decorated liberally with tiny glass mosaics, which is impressive not least because of its delicate grace. Adorning its four corners are 14th c. figures in the Borobodur style. Inside is a black lacquered bookcase, beautifully inlaid with mother-of-pearl, containing the "Tripitaka" (Triple Basket), the sacred scriptures. The floor of the mondhop is of pure silver.
The stone model of Angkor Wat, standing on the terrace, dates from the reign of Rama IV, when what is now Cambodia was a vassal state of Siam. Although diminutive compared with the original, and in a setting far removed from the latter's jungle site, the model is a history lesson in itself and for that reason much visited.
Phra Viharn Yot
Phra Viharn Yot, to the left of the terrace, has the distinction of housing the most ancient of all the treasures in the sacred precinct, a stone which served as a throne for Ramkhamhaeng, the 13th c. founder of Thailand. It was uncovered by King Mongkut (Rama IV) during his years of wandering as a monk and it was he who brought it to Bangkok.
Prasat Phra Debidorn
The Prasat Phra Debidorn building, is also called the Pantheon. The interior, which is only open to the general public on one day each year, Chakri Day (6th April), contains life-size statues of the first eight kings of the Chakri dynasty (the present monarch King Bhumibol is the ninth member of this dynastic line).
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is the Holy of Holies in Wat Phra Kaeo. Entry to the bot is through one of the side portals, the center one reserved for the king. Inside the bot the small but exquisite statue of the Buddha, only 75 cm (30 in.) high, rests on a tall plinth beneath a nine-tiered canopy. According to tradition the nephrite figure was carved in Patalibutr in India - though other sources claim it to be from Burma, the work of an unknown artist. It first came to light in 1434 in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, having arrived there by way of Ceylon and Cambodia. At the time of its discovery the statue was encased in plaster. While in the process of being transported, the casing was damaged and split open, revealing the nephrite figure within. After many travels had taken it to, among other places, Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Thornburi, the Emerald Buddha was brought to Bangkok in 1778 and installed in Wat Phra Kaeo where it has remained ever since. Three times a year, at the start of each season, a special ceremony is held in which the Buddha's robes are changed by no less a person than the king himself. The beauty of the statue is most easily appreciated in the rainy season (May to October), being almost completely hidden during the cold season (November to February) beneath a covering of gold mesh.The superb murals in the bot merit particular attention despite the fact that, owing to restoration necessitated by deterioration over the years, they are no longer in their original state. Above the entrance are scenes from the life of Buddha while, on the opposite side, the universe is portrayed in the symbolism of Buddhist astrology. Episodes from the "Ramakien" in pictures and in verse decorate the doors and window-shutters.After leaving the temple it is well worth taking a walk round the delightful gardens with their graceful gilded statues known as "kinnaris" (bird-maidens). Also of interest are the demon figures, which provide the support for a tiered chedi.Wat Phra Kaeo comes to life and is at its most interesting at weekends; however visitors should take care to avoid disturbing worshippers.Between the bot of Wat Phra Kaeo and the covered walk which forms the boundary with the rest of the palace precinct, there are small pavilions which in earlier times were used by the king when he was preparing to undertake ceremonial duties in the bot. Today they provide welcome shade on hot days.The murals in the covered way have been restored with much loving care for detail. They depict episodes from the "Ramakien" and also from Thai history.
Boromabiman Hall is the official name for the building overlooking the lawns where the king's annual garden party used to be held. Frescos inside depict the four Indian gods - Indra, Yahuma, Varuna and Agni - as guardians of the universe. Inscribed on plaques beneath are the ten royal virtues: liberality, propriety, readiness to make sacrifices, clemency, modesty, conscientiousness, freedom from anger, freedom from suspicion, patience and right dealing. Ever since the time of Rama VI all the Crown Princes, including King Bhumibol, have grown up here. Nowadays the building is only used occasionally, in particular to accommodate visiting Heads of State or high-ranking Buddhist dignitaries.
To the west of the Chakri Palace is a large complex of buildings in three sections, the whole being known as the Mahamontien ("High Residence"). The front part of the building, which is open to visitors, comprises a single hall known as Amarindra Vinichai, meaning "Divine Decision", where King Rama I received homage seated on a large wide throne. The hall continues to be used for state occasions although King Bhumibol (crowned here on May 5th 1950) prefers to sit European-style on another throne placed in front of the great throne. Each year, on the anniversary of his coronation, the King holds an investiture here, bestowing honors and awards not only on fellow Heads of State and high-ranking dignitaries and officials in the public service, but also on deserving men and women from every walk of life - especially those who have distinguished themselves by their contribution to social work.On leaving Amarindra Vinichai visitors turn right and walk around the peristyle in front of it, from where in former days royal proclamations were read out. The red and gold posts were used for tethering the royal elephants.
Great Chakri Palace
The Great Chakri Palace lies amid well-tended lawns. In the days when the kings and queens of Thailand resided here, the king would occupy the east wing and his consort the west (no entry to the public). Today, King Bhumibol having moved into the Chitralada Residence, it is used for official occasions such as the reception of foreign ambassadors and delegations. Though designed by an English architect in Italian Renaissance style, at King Rama V's insistence the palace was embellished with typically Siamese stepped roofs and mondhops. The tallest of the mondhops, above the central section, houses an urn containing the ashes of all the earlier Chakri kings. As well as being notable for the richness of their interiors, all the rooms in the palace are treasure-houses of valuable paintings, among them portraits of every Thai king. The incongruity of the exterior of the building cannot however be disguised; only when seen from the air does it harmonize with its surroundings. Royal proclamations were at one time read out from the balcony on the front; the oval picture in the center depicts Rama V, the founder of the palace.
Dusit Maha Prasat
West of the Great Chakri Palace stands the Dusit Maha Prasat, a graceful edifice with four-fold overlapping roofs clad in red and green glazed tiles. It was built by Rama I in 1789. The ground plan of the building is such that the roofs intersect one another above gold ornamented gables, then rise step-like to a gilded mondhop culminating in a chedi-like spire. Forming a base for the mondhop as well as a harmonious feature at the point where the roofs converge are four garudas, mythical birds which served the god Vishnu as steeds and which are represented on the Thai royal coat of arms.The single large inner hall, which is open to visitors, was originally Rama I's Audience Chamber. Here the king received his guests, seated, not on the large throne seen there today, but higher up, on a niche-like throne set in the wall of the south wing. The murals were painted in a later period, when the chamber became used for the lying-in-state of deceased monarchs. The richly ornamented couch and a number of other individual pieces of furniture do however date from Rama I's time, as do the beams in the walls and ceilings, laboriously transported over great distances from the north of Thailand.
Amphorn Phimok Prasat
The delicate wooden pavilion seen ahead on leaving the Dusit Maha Prasat is the Amphorn Phimok Prasat, used by Rama I as a robing chamber. Having "progressed" here in his litter, the king would change before entering the audience room. Drapes interlaced with gold thread were let down between the pillars behind which the king donned his ceremonial robes.
More Grand Palace Pictures
Map - Grand Palace
Map of Bangkok Attractions